Walt Harris will be fired as Stanford coach.
My sources tell me it could happen as early as Saturday, after the Big Game.
Harris hasn’t made friends in his two years at Stanford. I seem to be the only one in the media who likes him. More important, he’s alienated influential alumni by his reaction to criticism in a 1-10 season. That’s critical at Stanford, where alumni often supplement coaching salaries, to bridge the gap from the relatively paltry amount the Stanford athletic department is willing to pay.
Firing him is the easy move for athletic director Bob Bowlsby. Finding a good replacement will be more difficult. Since Tyrone Willingham left, the university has tightened admissions standards for athletes. Unless the university administration goes back to the earlier standards, taking the Stanford job would be committing professional suicide. Remember that Harris took Pittto four bowl games in his six seasons there. He didn’t suddenly turn dumb when he came to Stanford.
The turmoil at Stanford underscores the fact that the historic Big Game rivalry isn’t what it once was.
On the field, it’s become lopsided. First, Stanford won seven straight Big Games in the Willingham era. Under Jeff Tedford, the Bears have won four straight. Some of the Stanford wins were close, but the four Cal wins have come by a combined score of 124-32. The Bears are 29-point favorites Saturday.
Despite the oft-repeated phrase “Anything can happen in the Big Game,” the rivalry has been no more unpredictable than college football in general. The last really big upset came 20 years ago, in Joe Kapp’s last game as Cal coach, when the one-win Bears upset the bowl-bound Cardinal 17-11.
Before that, you have to go back to 1947, when a Cal team that wound up 9-1, and ranked No. 15 in the nation, won only 21-18 over a Stanford team that finished 0-9. If the Cardinal were to beat Cal Saturday, it would be the biggest upset since World War II. A more likely outcome is that the Bears will exceed the point spread.
Socially, the Big Game rivalry isn’t what it once was, either.
The rivalry has been a friendly one, especially compared to some like Oklahoma-Texas or the Civil War rivalry between Oregon and Oregon State.
Graduates of both schools often work together, and there are many marriages where one person is a Stanford graduate and the spouse a Cal alum.
It’s still civilized among alumni. At the Guardsmen luncheon on Wednesday, for instance, I sat at a table where I was flanked by Stanford alums and had friendly and interesting conversations with both.
But Cal students, especially from the fraternities, have lowered the civility bar.
The best Big Games are at Berkeley and one reason for that has been the setting. Fraternityand sorority houses line Piedmont Avenue, leading up to Memorial Stadium, and the celebrations of the students lend great color and excitement to the day.
But that student involvement has turned nasty in recent years, as they have showered verbal use on Stanford alums coming to the game, including sexual taunts at middle-aged women. I hope that student behavior changes Saturday.
I also hope that Stanford will change its admissions policy so that the Cardinal can become competitive again.
But not Saturday.
Glenn Dickey has been covering Bay Area sports since 1963 and also writes on www.GlennDickey.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.